My son sat at the dining room table silently putting the last few pieces into the puzzle, orange and red leaves carefully resting near a large and ominous tree. Dad mindfully hemmed and hawwed as he placed the scattered pieces, remarking here and there to grandson that when he came to the U.S. for university he would rake leaves, walk down streets like those in the puzzle. It had been three years since we left the house in Renton and that life behind. Mom had one last cookie, gathered her overnight bag and kissed everyone goodbye. I smiled and laughed nervously, quickly hugging and ushering her out the door. The older children stood with sullen faces watching as their grandparents pulled their bags and made their way to the van. They would catch a late night flight and be home within 20 hours, leaving behind remnants of a different life. A carefully placed silk plant with bright red leaves inside a cheery pot, children’s books sat on tables and brightly colored toys stacked haphazardly. These forbidden treasures would skillfully be hidden away, shoved into closets and baskets, where “useless and wasteful items” were to be kept.  The children sat on the couch chuckling and remembering the two weeks that had passed, walks to the mini mart, swimming at the pool, drinking root beer floats, bringing Grampa cups of coffee and baking Grama cookies. Within minutes they were in a heap, arms and legs across the couch and table, heads bobbing to remain awake and in this last precious moment, the smell of Grama’s perfume and Grampa’s coffee.

The days that followed were filled with a tinge of sadness as I picked up and stored away the life that did not belong to us. At first I carefully slid puzzle pieces into a tattered box feeling despair and sadness, but as the days faded I routinely stacked away all that had passed with little emotion. A part of me was relieved that this visit had come to an end because it was a constant reminder of the two lives I chose to live and that constantly clashed. The visit had been lovely, full of fun and bliss but a double edged sword that made life stressful as well. Talk of art, literature and life back home all brought his face to an ashen grey. Words were spoken and dreams were tended to, ideas spread like wild fire through the home. I spent my days watching his expressions and then recklessly changing subjects from religion and life’s purpose to “what’s for dinner” and “let’s take a walk”. My oldest son was now 10, already pushing for independence and a life with a stable father figure. He welcomed his grandparents visits as a sign of better things to come and hope for the future. A sense of relief and guilt spread over me as I now carelessly threw away the bits and pieces that remained, old danish, salad dressings and penciled in grocery lists. His words always rang in my ears and rattled around in my head, “Your parents do not love you like I do and never will”.